Navy lowers physical standards for Sailors

Chief petty officer selectees assigned to Naval Station Mayport participate in a 5K run and 3K walk for suicide prevention awareness. September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and the Navy's 2013 theme is Thrive in Your Community. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Marcus L. Stanley/Released)

The Navy has introduced a controversial new policy that changes how fitness assessment failures are handled.

Previously, Sailors who failed two consecutive fitness assessments would face automatic career termination.

However, this is no longer the case.
Under the old guidelines, failing one physical fitness assessment (known in the Navy as a PFA) meant Sailors couldn’t be promoted until they passed another test, but their careers could still continue.

A second consecutive failure, however, meant the end of their career due to the inability to be promoted or reenlist.

With the new policy, commanding officers now have the authority to decide on career-ending actions rather than enforcing a mandatory fleet-wide rule.

This change was communicated in an administrative message sent out on Tuesday.
Vice Adm. Rick Cheeseman, the Chief of Naval Personnel, stated in the message that commanding officers can now assess a Sailor’s progress in physical fitness. This change allows them to manage risks better and acknowledge sincere efforts.

The new policy also means that a failed PFA won’t automatically be recorded on a sailor’s annual evaluation. However, Sailors will still lose their eligibility for advancement until they pass another fitness test. This helps Sailors remain competitive for various programs, despite an initial failure.

For enlisted Sailors, a second consecutive PFA failure will no longer result in the lowest possible score in the “Military Bearing/Professionalism” category or automatic denial of reenlistment.

According to, decisions on retention will now be left to the discretion of the commanding officer, who should consider the sailor’s overall contribution to Navy missions, their qualification for continued service, and their potential to meet PFA standards within the next 12 months.

This policy adjustment is part of the Navy’s broader effort to modernize its leadership and service culture. The goal is to acknowledge the Navy’s diverse population, build trust among Sailors, and improve the quality of service.

In recent years, the Navy has made several changes to the fitness test. In February, they reset the count on PFA failures, allowing up to 1,500 Sailors to remain in service.
Last November, they eliminated the postpartum PFA requirement for new mothers, which was typically taken less than a year after childbirth.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the Navy has also continued the practice of conducting only one PFA per year instead of two, a trend that will persist through 2025.

Critics have argued that these changes indicate the Navy is lowering its standards in response to recruitment challenges and an increasingly overweight population. However, data from Vice Adm. Cheeseman’s office show that the number of Sailors failing PFAs remains very low.

In 2017, nearly 98% of Sailors passed the PFA. Following the pandemic, in 2022, 95.1% of Sailors passed the fitness assessment. Some changes, like conducting only one PFA per year, were made at the request of fleet commanders to reduce administrative burdens during high operational tempos.

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  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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